Fracking Pipeline Threatens Naked Mountain Natural Area Preserve!

I am in shock!  Yesterday I received a certified letter from Dominion Transmission, Inc., aka “Dominion” notifying me that they are proposing to run a natural gas pipeline from the fracking fields of West Virginia through precious, unspoiled rural areas of Virginia – including my property – and on to the shipping ports of North Carolina. Here are the key paragraphs:

“I am writing on behalf of …”Dominion” to tell you about a new natural gas pipeline project that Dominion is researching as a possibility for your area. We are referring to this pipeline as the “Southeast Reliability Project.” The purpose of the pipeline is to increase the availability of natural gas supplies in parts of the Southeast, including Virginia, thereby helping promote stable energy prices and economic development.

Typically, the first step in a new project is to conduct surveys and environmerital studies along a potential route corridor. Your property has been identified as being in this corridor and we are notifying you so that we can begin keeping you informed throughout this process and because surveys will be conducted on your property.”

The letter goes on to request my permission to conduct the survey, but this is merely a polite formality.  I am told maps of this project bring the pipeline up over the top of Naked Mountain and right through the barrens where the beautiful Shooting Stars bloom and where the rare Torrey’s Mountain Mint grows.

Here are some photos, taken this spring, of what is threatened by this project:

Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) blooming with Small-flowered Phacelia (Phacelia dubia) in the barrens on Naked Mountain. Many thousands bloom in a warren of barrens across the Southeastern face of Naked Mountain. Click on photo to enlarge.

Small-flowered Phacelia (Phacelia dubia) was blooming in profusion in many open spots across Naked Mountain this spring. Click on photo to enlarge.

Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginia) and Phacelia blooming in the barren on the ridge top near my home.

Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima) blooming along my upper road.

Fortunately for me, and for the plants, birds and animals that call Naked Mountain their home, my property is under conservation easement with the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.  As one of the state’s designated Natural Area Preserves, my property is protected from “takings” for energy transmission lines and pipelines, but not without a fight.  I also intend to join Friends of Nelson (County) to help all the citizens that live in this beautiful, rural area fight this pipeline proposal.  If you want to help, search google for Friends of Nelson which will have a web site up and running very soon.


Special Visitor Comes to Naked Mountain

I had a very special visitor come to Naked Mountain last week:  Lara Gastinger, the principal artist for the Flora of Virginia.

Flora of Virginia artist, Lara Gastinger, on my deck on Naked Mountain.

Lara has received a commission from a friend of mine, a 65th birthday gift, to paint a watercolor portrait of a plant of my choosing.  Since I have so many wonderful plants to choose from on Naked Mountain, I asked Gary Fleming to help me decide.  Gary, senior vegetation ecologist with the Natural Heritage Program within Virginia’s Department of Conservation and Recreation, has visited Naked Mountain several times and knows its flora well.  Gary suggested I choose Phemeranthes teretifolius (Fameflower) because it only grows in the Piedmont on mafic barrens.  Naked Mountain has many of those and several support this unusual plant.  The plant is unusual because each flower only blooms for one sunny afternoon and then progresses rapidly to fruit.  Lara wanted to visit the plant in person to help her complete her portrait.  I can’t wait to see it.  Lara is a truly fabulous botanical artist which a peruse of the Flora will immediately evidence.  You can read more about Lara and see her exquisite work on her website here.

During our visit, Lara and I took a short hike up to the summit of Naked Mountain.  She was interested in seeing the flora that were blooming in the thin, mostly Quercus prinus (Chestnut Oak) woodland that grows in the sparse soils between the lichen-covered rocks.  Below is a sampling of what we saw.

Gerardia laevigata (Entire-leaved False Foxglove). Photo by Lara Gastinger. Click on photo to enlarge.

Campanula rotundifolia (Harebell). Photo by author. Click on photo to enlarge.

One of the tasks I have been engaged in for two weeks is pulling literally thousands of Ailanthus (Ailanthus altissima) seedlings.  I first realized the problem when I checked the area around a tree on the ridgeline that had blown down in the July, 2012 derecho. I found 50-100 Ailanthus seedlings sprouting.  I then began checking all the blow down sights near the summit of Naked Mountain and began pulling dozens up to hundreds of seedlings in each site. Clearly, the damage from the derecho and this summer’s record rainfall has created excellent conditions for the Ailanthus seed bank to explode.  This is very discouraging since my husband and I killed probably 10,000 mature Ailanthus trees over a three year period from 2004-2007.  A check last summer (See the August 12, 2012 post) revealed almost no Ailanthus trees or saplings growing on Naked Mountain and the few that were found were treated with Garlon 3a via a hack and squirt technique around the base of each stem.  To now find that thousands of seeds are sprouting is overwhelming as I must try and monitor infested sites over nearly three hundred acres, much of it on very difficult, steep and rocky terrain.  But I am trying very hard to do this.  


One benefit of this lonely task is that it forces me to go out into tough terrain and so I see some interesting and completely new parts of the mountain.  I discovered, for instance, a second drift of Eurybia macrophylla (Large-leaved Aster).  This one is smaller than the one right at the summit that is about 20 feet by 20 feet in size.  Here is a photo of a selection of probably 100 plants in full bloom tucked in and around an old log.

Aster Macrophyllus (Large-leaved Aster). Photo by author.

I also discovered a rock cliff, covered with beautiful plants – grasses, ferns, flowers. on the top of the Northwest slope near the summit.  Several Fringe trees grew on top of the cliff. Here are a couple of photos from that discovery today:

Rock cliff on Northwest slope of Naked Mountain. Photo by author.


Rock cliff and Aster divaricatus (White Wood Aster). Photo by author.




Cardinal Flowers Galore!

When I returned to Naked Mountain from another summer family trip, this time to Cleveland, Ohio for a lovely wedding that took place on a bluff overlooking Lake Erie as the sun set and gulls soared overhead calling out their approval, another beautiful surprise awaited.  In a small seep right next to the road and measuring about twenty-five feet by eight feet, cardinal flowers (Lobelia cardinalis) were in full bloom.  As I photographed them I counted 87 plants in this small, wet space.  Most summers, this seep in August is damp, but not flowing.  This year much of the Eastern U.S. has experienced above average rainfall and the seep was running like it does in the spring.

Not so wonderful was the proliferation of Japanese Stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum) in the seep.  For six years, I have diligently pulled every blade I could find of this horrible invasive in late August, just before it goes to seed.  I have frequently had help in this work from local Master Naturalists.  We were making good progress:  Every year the infestation was noticeably less.  But this year, maybe because of the excessive rainfall, it was like starting over again –an explosion of the stuff.  So, after taking the photographs, I began a four hour session of pulling microstegium and only finished half the seep.  I will work on this again until I am satisfied it is clean! You can read more about Japanese Stiltgrass here.

A special benefit of spending quiet time doing this not-so-unpleasant task in the middle of a natural area preserve is appreciating being in a natural place.  Three Spicebush Swallowtail butterflies (Papilio troilus) worked the cardinal flowers for nectar as I pulled out the weed beneath them that would harm the plants’ ability to thrive and so diminish a helpful food source for the butterflies.

Naked Mountain Spicebush Swallowtail butterfly sipping nectar on a Cardinal flower.








Another one…


Spicebush Swallowtails are easy to identify because they have two rows of orange spots on the undersides of their hindwings and they are the only black butterfly to flicker its wings as it perches on a flower. That makes photographing them a special challenge!  Their host plant is spicebush (Lindera benzoin) and sassafrass (Sassafrass albidum) both of which are in abundance on Naked Mountain.  You can read more about Spicebush Swallowtail butterfies here.

Then, I heard the distinctive buzz of a hummingbird’s wings.  I looked up to see a tiny bird that looked more like a bee hovering — checking me out.  I guess it didn’t like dealing with a human in the middle of a favorite nectar spot – it flew off.  I am sure it came back for a good meal after I left.

Sunflowers and Nodding Wild Onion Greet My Return!

Woodland Sunflowers (Helianthus divaricatus) and Nodding Wild Onions blooming on Naked Mountain

I returned to Naked Mountain after a three week absence spent visiting family and friends in New England.  What a welcome I received!  The small barren that is just a short walk from my house up a foot-tramped path is ablaze with masses of blooming Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus) and Nodding Wild Onion (Alluim cernuum). What a show!  Tucked in along the edges of the rock were a few dozen Fameflowers (Phemeranthus teretifolius).  They were mostly already in fruit, but a few had pink buds that will open only on a sunny afternoon, and only for a few hours for exactly one day —  that’s it until next year.  Also blooming were a dozen or so Orange-grass, or Pineweed plants (Hypericum genitanoides).

Close up of Nodding Wild Onion Plants (Allium cernuum).

This little barren is such a pleasure – just steps away and a continuing display of gorgeous Virginia native plants.  The trees you see in the background are mixed Chestnut Oak (Quercus Montana) and (I think) Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  The small tree that is growing right out of the rock is a Persimmon tree (Diospyros virginiana) and it is covered with fruit. Also plentiful, but hard to see in this photo are Fringetrees (Chionanthus virginicus).  They put on quite a display in May, but I will wait until then to show this to you. The grasses include Poverty Oatgrass (Danthonia spicata) and other species that I have not yet identified.  I also know nothing yet about the various mosses and lichens that are plentiful in this barren – more fun discovery work!

I checked on the bluebird box and, as expected, it was empty:  The nestlings had fledged.  I took the box down and cleaned it out, disposing of the nest.  Under the nest I found hundred of tiny ants that probably made life pretty unpleasant for the little baby birds. That sort of insect infestation is a common occurrence in nest boxes.  I scrubbed the bottom and sides of the box with a wire brush.  Then I scrubbed it with a sponge dipped in mild bleach solution to disinfect.  I let the box dry thoroughly in the sunshine and then remounted the box – all ready for another brood.

Last evening, while I was dining on my deck as the sun set, a little flock of bluebirds flew over my head. I couldn’t help but wonder if this was the little family that had its beginnings a few steps away in the nest box in the small barren where the sunflowers and nodding wild onion are now blooming….


Bluebird Update: Survival Challenge Ends Well

It is time to give you an update on the progress of the Naked Mountain Bluebird nest box.  The new box was erected and discussed in the February 18th post, “Bluebirds Need Your Help.” On May 1st I took a picture of the beautiful nest and five very blue eggs that I found in

Naked Mountain bluebird nest with eggs. Picture taken May 1st by author.

the box and published it in the post, “The Birds Have Arrived on Naked Mountain!” I had planned to screw a protective cage onto the front of the nest box the day I had my car wreck on Naked Mountain – see the May 11 post.  I was waiting to do this until I knew the eggs would be about to hatch so that the mother bluebird would be less likely to abandon her eggs due to the new, possibly frightening, addition to the nest box entrance.  The cage has bent-back prongs on the ends to discourage snakes from trying to enter the box; they will avoid the prongs to prevent injury.  But, the tow truck arrived more quickly than expected to haul my wrecked vehicle off the mountain. And, I was scheduled to be in New York City for five days very shortly, so I drove to Northern Virginia in a rented sedan and did not get back to Naked Mountain, in my nicely repaired all-wheel-drive Subaru Outback, until May 23rd.

Author looking into the bluebird nest box on May 23rd. Photo by David Hopwood.



The day I got back, I hurried up to the small barren where the nest box is and looked inside.






This is what I found:

As you can see, the nest is not disturbed at all as it would be if a raccoon had predated the nest, and there are no feathers, or fluff from nestlings and just some fecal droppings on side of the box that was likely left by adult birds.  It has all the markings of a stealthy snake attack on the eggs with all of them consumed.  The big concern I had was whether the mother bluebird was consumed as well, trapped while sitting on her eggs.  Yikes!

I was very sad about this.  But in the hope that the mother survived and would just try again, I left the nest in place and screwed the protective cage on tight. Then, a few days later, on May 28,  I checked the nest box again.  This is what I found:

Eggs found on May 28th.


Hurray!! The drive for survival within these beautiful, seemingly fragile, little birds is really impressive! I’ll keep you posted on the progress of this nest box throughout the season


In the meantime, here are some wildflowers in bloom now on Naked Mountain.

Tradescantia virginiana blooming on Naked Mountain. Photo by author.


Can anyone identify the species of Penstemon in this photo?

Penstemon ?subspecies, blooming on Naked Mountain. Photo by author.

I am guessing either canescens or hirsutus, but the leaf matches the Flora of Virginia’s description for hirsutus perfectly, while the flower matches the description for canescens.  Can you help?  If you click on the photo, the enlargement allows you to see all the pubescence.

Spring Finally Arrives on Naked Mountain!

After a dump of two feet of wet snow on Naked Mountain on March 6th, spring finally showed up, as expected, on March 20th, the day of the spring equinox (at least in the Northern Hemisphere.) Here is how Wikipedia defines the phenomenon of the equinox:

“An equinox occurs twice a year (around 20 March and 22 September), when the tilt of the Earth‘s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the Sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator

On the day of the equinox, the center of the Sun spends a roughly equal amount of time above and below the horizon at every location on the Earth, so night and day are about the same length. The word equinox derives from the Latin words aequus (equal) and nox (night).”

When the sun came up on Naked Mountain on March 20th, I timed its arrival, and its departure for equality. Indeed, the sun showed up right about 7:15 a.m. and set right about 7:15 p.m give or take a minute or two. Impressive!

In between the rise and setting of the sun, I checked on the progress of spring on Naked Mountain measured in other ways—wildflower blooms!

Spring 2013 has seemed much colder than last year, but whether this is normal for March is hard to know any more with the confounding effects of global warming.  At any rate, the

Emerging Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) in barrens on Naked Mountain on March 20, 2013

wildflowers are taking their time. On March 20th, I hiked down into the outcrop barrens to check on the progress of thousands of Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon meadia) that bloom there in early May. The barrens, which are comprised of seeping amphibolite rock and associated plant communities, occur all across the southeastern face of Naked Mountain at about 1700 feet. On March 20th, The Shooting Stars were just coming up; most were poking up about three to four inches above the ground.

I also found some Spring Beauty (Claytonia Virginica -see photo above)) and Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)in bloom.

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concantenata) blooming on Naked Mountain on March 20, 2013

Later that day, I took a walk with a friend along a roadway within the Dutch Creek Agricultural-Forestal District near the base of Naked Mountain. An Agriculture-Forestal District is a rural zone that prohibits housing subdivision and any development that is not agricultural, or forestal in nature. It is designed to protect open spaces, rural character, water quality and other natural resources.  Here is a benefit of living within a Virginia AFD and having many neighbors who have gone even further and placed their properties under a conservation easement: 

Hepatica blooming in the Dutch Creek Agricultural-Forestal District on March 20, 2013.

So, spring is definitely on its way! I will keep you updated on the progress of Shooting Stars and other special denizens of Naked Mountain.


Coyotes — Boon or Menace?

Coyotes are a growing presence, and some would say menace, in the Eastern United States, including Virginia.  While I have never seen one on Naked Mountain, I have seen signs that may indicate their presence – scat like a dog’s, but unlike dog scat, full of hair.  Neighbors have also heard coyotes calling and yipping.  They sound like a cross between a wolf and a dog alternating with a high-pitched howl and yip-like barking.

Coyote – photo from Wikipedia

Friends who live in southern Albemarle County, about seven miles away, told me an amazing story verifying rumors of coyote wiliness.  One day last summer, Will walked out to one of the barns on their 1200 acre farm accompanied by the family’s young bloodhound, Missy, and a visiting pet, a small mongrel named Riley.  The whole way out to the barn, the dogs ran at each other playfully.  When the threesome got to the barn, Will saw that a coyote, standing on the lip of the “slash,” or swampy area, behind the barn, was intently watching the dogs.  Will and his wife Ti knew that a family of coyotes had moved into the slash establishing a den there.  Will watched as the coyote trotted up to the playful dogs, who were unaware of its presence at first, and then engaged them in active play.  He was astonished as the coyote played with the dogs like it was one of them.  But then, the coyote ran a little distance away, turning back to glance at the dogs in a kind of invitation.  Missy froze and just stared.  Riley chased after the coyote who then led him down the sloping field toward the slash.  When Will turned his glance to the slash he saw two other coyotes standing there, intently watching the approaching pair.  Will saw the developing danger for Riley and called frantically to him.  Finally, in the nick of time, he got his attention and Riley ran to Will, leaving his strange new companion behind.  If he hadn’t, the threesome pack of coyotes would have made quick work of poor little Riley.

 Deer hunting season has just concluded in Virginia and many hunters in the Naked Mountain area are reporting that the number of deer are significantly down.  Some hunters believe the influx of coyotes are responsible.  Many wildflower enthusiasts, like myself, would cheer this possibility.  On Naked Mountain, deer browse on many native plants including beautiful wildflowers like Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis),

Bloodroot — Photo from Jennifer Anderson @ USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

which I have watched decline since my husband and I purchased Naked Mountain in 1988.  

I called Matt Knox, one of two deer project coordinators with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) to ask him if he thought coyotes could be responsible for a decline in the deer population. He told me that coyotes used to be rare in the state twenty years ago when he started work with the VDGIF, but now they are commonplace.  Over the twenty years Matt said the population of deer in the state has been stable.  Some years the number of deer killed by hunters is down as in 2010, the year after a winter when a foot of snow was on the ground in most of the state for 60-90 days. Many deer starved and did not reproduce in the Spring.  He also said they would be easy targets for coyotes who can walk on top of crusty snow, while deer punch through, slowing them down. But in 2011, the deer population was up.  This year, Matt has had many reports that hunters have killed many fewer deer, but the numbers from the state’s many check points will not be available for several months.  Matt noted that the deer population in the Western United States has long co-existed with coyotes and their numbers have not suffered.  He then told me about an interesting research project that is investigating coyote behavior.

 I called Mike Fies, wildlife biologist with VDGIF, who is directing the “Ecology of the Eastern Coyote” research project.  It is being carried out at Virginia Tech by a professor there and two graduate students.  The project is designed to answer questions about whether or not coyotes are impacting the deer population in western Virginia where the numbers of deer on public lands, like the George Washington National Forest, are down. Mike said this may be due to many factors including expanding poor habitat as trees are not cut and forests mature.  He noted that the bear population has been increasing quite rapidly and that bears, in addition to coyotes, are predating deer fawns. 

 The research will impart information about the Eastern coyote which is a very different animal than its better known Western cousin.  The Eastern coyote is larger, possibly because it has interbred with the Canadian Red Wolf  in its migration East, and it has different habits.  The project traps coyotes and fits them with radio collars so their movements and denning behavior can be tracked.  Researchers are also collecting and analyzing coyote scat to determine what the animal has eaten.  The scat is subjected to DNA analysis to ensure that it is coyote and not bobcat or bear scat.  The DNA analysis also allows researchers to identify specific individual coyotes providing  a rich database of ecological information. 

 The three year project is in its second year.  Stay tuned.   





The Blacksmith

I needed help with my fireplace.  When we built the house twenty years ago,  we selected a plan that located the fireplace in the center of the house so as not to block gorgeous views of the Blue Ridge Mountains through large floor to ceiling glass doors that opened onto a series of decks.  We knew that all that glass in a house facing northwest, even though double paned, might result in keeping the living room a little cool in the winter months.  A woodstove clearly would have been more practical, but we wanted a fully viewed fire in a fireplace. Most modern fireplaces don’t do a good job of warming a room.  What to do?

We had noticed that friends of ours that lived in nearby Albemarle County on an estate that had been in their family for seven generations always had radiantly warm fires burning in their fireplaces on cold, snowy days.  These fires were significantly warmer than any we had ever experienced, and certainly warmer than those produced by the fireplace in the Northern Virginia home we then owned. We shared our observations and our friends responded that all the fireplaces in their 1810 home were “Rumfords.”  They explained someone named Count Rumford (a Tory from Colonial days) figured out that the only real heat a fireplace emits is radiant heat.  Therefore, the firebox needs to be tall, wide and shallow and flush with the floor to allow for the maximum amount of radiant heat   

Intrigued, I began to research Rumford fireplaces.  As this was in the days before widespread use of personal computers and the internet, it was not as easy as it would be today.  But I found and ordered a pamphlet entitled, “Energy Efficient Masonry Fireplaces” from the Centre for Research and Development in Masonry in Calgary, Alberta Canada.  The pamphlet extols the virtues of a Rumford fireplace and provided clear blueprints on how to build one.  I handed this over to our builder who, in turn, gave it to the masons subcontracted to build our fireplace.  You don’t have to order the pamphlet from Canada; you can read more about Rumford fireplaces at:

The stone masons were Nelson County craftsman, but former school teachers who had emigrated to the peace of rural central Virginia from the frenzy of Northern Virginia.  They had learned their dry-stone masonry technique from a local master. When they visited Naked Mountain and the building site, they urged us not to buy pretty stone from a building supplier, but rather to use the dark, streaked and lichen-covered stone they found lying on the ground everywhere near the building site.  They said they had never seen stone like this.  Many of the fragments were right-sized and required little more effort than being picked up, brushed off and fitted, like a puzzle, with other found stones.  The finished fireplace, they argued, would look like the rocks we could view just beyond our windows.  

Many years later, we learned how special those rocks are:  amphibolite that has been metamorphosed through geologic forces from basalt and that is rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium.  These chemicals leach into the soil and help nurture robust and diverse flora on Naked Mountain.

But back to the fireplace… convinced we should have a site-stone fireplace, we said go ahead.  I worked with them to try and scale the firebox opening to fit the tall, 13.5 foot fireplace, faced with amphibolite and flanked with slanted antique heart-pine boards.  The opening was tall and very shallow, but needed to be much narrower than most Rumford fireplaces.  It looked right, but when we lit a fire, the opening was so high, smoke drifted out into the room.  We then had to purchase two lintels that we could stuff up at the top of the opening and seal the gaps that occurred between it and the natural stone with yellow insulation that came in the package.  The effect was less than appealing since the lintels were shiny black and ill-fitting with bits of yellow insulation showing through.  But, the fireplace then worked very well and the fire threw out radiant heat like any other well-designed Rumford fireplace.  Over time, the yellow insulation acquired black soot and visually disappeared, more or less, into the black rock. 

Fireplace before with dual store-bought lintels

A few weeks ago I resolved to fix the fireplace; to replace the make-shift lintels with a properly fashioned, iron lintel that would be shaped to fit into the natural stone gaps.  I got the name of a good local blacksmith, Scott Hingley,  from a neighbor. 

Scott is a character who drives around Nelson County in a Model A 1930 Ford Coupe that he has re-worked so it functions like a small pick up truck.  Scott is a highly independent person who is completely self-taught.  He can do many things:  stonework, carpentry and metal work.  He came to my house in his old truck, neatly dressed in a button-down striped blue shirt.  He showed me pages and pages of pictures of beautiful work he has done over the years, most of it metal work, ornate gates, doors, hinges, etc.  It was very impressive. 

Scott Hingley and his 1930 Model A converted Ford Coupe

Scott squeezed the horn and it sounded just like you would expect!

I just needed something quite simple.  Scott measured the make-shift lintels and the fireplace opening very carefully.  He looked everything over and then told me what he would do and gave me what I thought was a very reasonable price.  And… he could do it tomorrow!  After 20 years of an eyesore in an otherwise beautiful and interesting fireplace, I was going to get it fixed tomorrow!  

Scott showed up the next day and spent about four hours carefully carving out curved areas so they matched the uneven shapes of the rocks flanking the firebox opening. He set up just outside the house on the gravel walk, carefully raking away any dry leaves to keep the resulting sparks from causing a fire.  He trimmed the metal piece first with a cutting torch and then refined the contours with a hand-held electric grinder.  He then checked the progress of the shape he was making against the fireplace rocks, then back out again to re-work the metal, then back into the house again to check it. 

Scott shaping the metal lintel to fit into the natural stone

He probably made 50 trips before he was satisfied he had the right shapes and the right fix.  Then he fit the metal piece in tightly and sealed it with a fireproof sealant so any remaining cracks (I couldn’t see any) were eliminated.  He came back the next day to paint the sealant black and then it was done.  I waited a week before using the fireplace to be sure the sealant and paint were properly cured.  The new, beautiful lintel worked perfectly.

 Well done Scott!

Finished fireplace with new lintel.

Celebration of the just published Flora of Virginia!

Yesterday, December 9, 2012, was a momentous day in the natural history of the state of Virginia, one of the original 13 colonies and so one of the nation’s oldest states.  Yesterday, marked the celebration of the publication of the Flora of Virginia, a 1,554 page compendium of all of the plant species known to persist and reproduce in the state without cultivation. The hefty manual, 11 years in the making, includes descriptions of 3,164 species organized into 189 families, accompanied by 1400 original illustrations.  There are fascinating introductory chapters describing the history of plant discovery and documentation in Virginia, the ecology and natural history of plant species as well as descriptions of accessible natural area sites that showcase the rich variety of species within Virginia’s borders.  Because Virginia encompasses five physiographic provinces, from low lying coastal regions to mountainous plateaus, it harbors an unusual diversity of plant species matched only by a handful of other states that are much larger in size.

Stacks of Flora of Virginia at publication celebration.

Most important of all, the manual includes a key to the general classifications and to the families within them that is described as “user-friendly and innovative” and should reduce the need to bring along a dissecting scope for a field trip (but do bring your magnifying lens).  The key, the essential aide to field detective work, is prefaced by a quick explanation of the whys and wherefores of botanical keys and a review of the most common terms for botanical structures.  There is also an extensive glossary of terms and the index includes listing by common as well as Latin names.  You can read more about The Flora of Virginia Project which produced the manual and order a copy of it here.

Until yesterday, Virginia was the only state without a modern day flora.  Until yesterday, when I ventured out on Naked Mountain looking for new flowers to identify, I had to take along the West Virginia Flora to accomplish this delightful task.  I own the Second Edition published in 1978. Until yesterday, it was the best approximation I could find to a resource that might describe the species I would likely encounter on Naked Mountain.

Why Virginia was so late in developing its own modern flora may be due, in part, to the fact that this is not the first flora of Virginia to be published. The first publication took place in 1737 and was entitled, Flora Virginica. It was based on the collection and classification of plants by Virginia colonist, John Clayton, which he sent to European botanists.  Clayton’s findings were astonishing to men like Carl Linnaeus, the famous originator of the species classification system used today by botanists around the world.  The story of Clayton’s collaboration with European scientists is described in the new, 2012 Flora of Virginia.  

Yesterday’s celebrations began at noon at The Wintergreen Nature Foundation(TWNF).  Executive Director, Doug Coleman, provided an overview of the Flora of Virginia Project which enlisted support and direct input from a Who’s Who of Virginia’s botanists, botanical organizations and their leadership.  

Doug Coleman, Executive Director of The Wintergreen Nature Foundation. To his left is Lara Call Gastinger, main illustrator for the Flora.

Many of them were at TWNF yesterday to bask in the glow cast by the culmination of a major piece of work that is a significant contribution not only to Virginia’s natural history, but to the natural history of the Southeastern region of the United States.  The Flora’s three authors were present: 

  • Alan Weakley, a Virginia native, is director of the University of North Carolina Herbarium and an adjunct professor at UNC-Chapel Hill
  • Christopher Ludwig is Executive Director of the Flora Project and chief biologist of the Division of Natural Heritage of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation
  • John Townsend is staff biologist with the Division of Natural Heritage of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, previously curator of the herbarium of Clemson University.

    Chris Ludwig, Executive Director of the Flora of Virginia Project, speaking at the Flora celebration.

Chris Ludwig, Gary Fleming, who wrote two of the introductory chapters, and many other botanists present at the celebration have been on Naked Mountain and inventoried the plants growing in the barrens there, or in several of the vegetation plots that have been established to conduct research.  The Division of Natural Heritage of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation holds the easement for Naked Mountain and provides me with stewardship assistance to control invasive species.

Also present at yesterday’s celebration were two of the illustrators, including Lara Call Gastinger who illustrated the bulk of the Flora.  Lara is an exquisite artist who won a Royal Horticultural Society gold medal in 2007.  You can see some of her work here and on the Flora dust jacket (pictured above) which features one of my favorite wildflowers that I see in various locations on Naked Mountain:  Claytonia virginica, Spring Beauty — a well-chosen example for its relevant historical name and its proliferation in many of Virginia’s habitats.

The Flora of Virginia is a monumental contribution for many reasons and purposes.  It is designed to be used not just by scientists to further study and knowledge of Virginia’s plants, but by amateurs who simply love wildflowers.  There has been attention, all along, to the next generation and how to draw them in to the fascinating world of plant biology.  Efforts are already underway to convert the whole Flora into a digital app that can be downloaded onto handheld smart phones or tablet devices.  The Flora Project is building a library for its website of gorgeous photographs, including a few by Kenneth Lawless of Naked Mountain’s sentinel plant, Dodecatheon meadia, or Shooting Star.  As many of yesterday’s speakers emphasized, the most important hoped-for outcome of this massive, heroic effort is conservation.  The more more of us know about Virginia’s hertitage, the better equipped we will all be to protect it and preserve it. 

Author’s note:  If you purchase a copy of the Flora of Virginia, and if you live in Virginia, or visit it on occasion I hope that you will — don’t try to read it in bed!  I think it weighs about five pounds and trying to perch it on your stomach may give you indigestion!   


Road Work

My road, which has probably been in existence and periodic use for 200 years, is narrow, gravel and 2.4 miles long.  Since it cuts up Naked Mountain through a forest, trees line both sides of it from the beginning to the end.  Invited guests that make it to the top are rewarded with spectacular views of the Blue Ridge Mountains and nice cup of tea (or something stronger) proffered by the lady who lives in the small gray one-story house on the ridge (that would be me).  However, to reap the reward part of this journey you must be able to get up the road.  This is not a problem on foot, but if you are driving, you may encounter a few problems.  A common one is tree fall.  See the August 23rd blog entitled “Stymied.” 

To try and prevent the experience in “Stymied,” my good neighbor Steve suggested we cut down obviously dead trees that look like they could fall into the road.  We set aside this past Saturday to do the work.   Another friend, David, joined us.  The captioned pictures below describe how the trees were selected and cut.   Most of them were additionally cut into logs that can be split into firewood.  We piled these next to the road for later pick up.

Steve cuts a wedge to direct tree fall.



The wedge.

Steve cuts the tree into logs while David holds it steady with a Peavey.







As I have decided, unlike some women in rural areas, I am not well-suited to use a chain saw, I took the opportunity, as we walked down the road to each tree site, to do another

Author cuts sapling with loppers.

road work task:  grooming the sides of the road by cutting small saplings that will eventually impede travel by growing into trees.  I probably cut 250 saplings of varying sizes with a pair of loppers and my sore forearm muscles are confirmation that I did.    

 We cut down a total of eight trees.  As Steve cut the largest one, pictured here, an Eastern Screech Owl flew out of a hole in the tree.  We were all sorry to have destroyed this owl’s home.  But I am confident there are many more large dead hollowed out trees on Naked Mountain and that this owl will quickly find another home within its established territory.  

I do not understand why these charming, small 8-9 inch reddish-brown owls are called screech owls.  They do not screech. Their song is a pleasant descending whinny quite similar to a horse whinny.  During mating season the song is often a monotone trill.  You can download an audio recording of an Eastern Screech Owl from the Cornell Ornithology Lab here.  You can see photos and read more about screech owls here: